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By law, every food label must provide:
Much of the information on food labels is based around the concepts of the daily value (DV) and the percent DV (%DV). Keep in mind that:
Fat, carbohydrates, and protein are called macronutrients. These are the nutrients that provide calories, or energy, in the diet. The amount of fat, carbohydrates, and protein we need for good health depends in part on our body size, activity levels, and how many calories we eat. This is particularly important for fat, because many people eat more fat than is recommended for good health. For example, a 100 pound woman would need fewer calories in general than a 200 pound man and should therefore eat fewer grams of fat as well. This is important, because the %DV listed for each macronutrient is typically given for an “average,” 2,000 calorie or 2,500 calorie diet.
If you eat significantly fewer calories than the average diet, as a 100 pound woman probably would, the food likely contributes more toward meeting your specific DVs for fat than the label indicates. If you eat much more than 2,000 or 2,500 calories, as a highly active 200 pound man might, the food likely provides a smaller percentage of your fat DV.
For micronutrients, which include vitamins and minerals, %DVs do not vary by calorie intake. Whether you want the %DV of a particular nutrient to be higher or lower in the food you eat, depends upon the nutrient. If the nutrient is something most people need to limit for good health, it is better if the %DV is lower. If the nutrient is something for which many people come up short, a higher %DV is better.
As an example, consider trans fat, sodium, and sugar. People who eat a lot of packaged foods may eat more trans fat, sodium, and sugar than is recommended for good health. In this case, foods with lower %DVs for these nutrients are the healthier choice.
On the other hand, many people may not get the recommended amounts of fiber, vitamin A, and calcium for good health. Foods with higher %DVs for these nutrients are often the healthier choice.
The front of the label is another great place to gather information. This is where you can find claims, such as that a food is low-fat, low-sodium, or high-fiber. Understanding some of the more common claims can help you make smarter choices in the grocery store. To make certain claims on a label, a food must meet specific requirements. Here is a list of common claims and the requirements that must be met to make each claim: